In a controversial move, The Sun launched a campaign this week to promote women checking for early signs of breast cancer in its usual Page 3 slot devoted to topless models.
Seeing the front page this Tuesday, I wondered if page 3 was featuring women with scars from a mastectomy, still confident and sexy like all the other glamour models that usually feature in each issue but displaying a harsh reality and raising awareness. When I discovered that the page featured a section with a cancer sufferer winking and playfully gasping her breasts with her tongue out, portraying the whole idea in a tongue-in-cheek fashion, it first made me feel like the paper was doing something disgraceful. I’ve changed my mind.
Right now I’m sure you’re asking whether sexualising something as tragic and heart-breaking as cancer really is the lowest of the low. Well my answer is no, it’s not awful – it’s clever. It’s the biggest (relevant and daily) platform and media outreach to the British public raising awareness and informing women of what to look out for that I can think of.
The reason for the front page and the new weekly feature of “Check ‘Em Tuesday” is down to The Sun teaming up with charity group Coppafeel! founded by Kristin Hallenga (a young woman suffering from incurable breast cancer featured in the paper) and it’s their info graphic I saw online that helped me change my mind and decide that what The Sun has achieved with this campaign is truly something to smile about.
The info graphic displays some simple facts:
– The Sun has 11.5 million readers per week, 5 million of whom are women (of which 1 in 8 are likely to develop breast cancer).
– It means that 625,000 female Sun readers are potentially at risk.
– If just 10% of them check their breasts for symptoms and thus manage to catch them in their first stage then a potential 63,000 women will have a 90% survival rate…all because they checked early.
The criticisms over the campaign haven’t of course been that The Sun is promoting women checking for symptoms – it’s been the suggestions that it has sexualised and even trivialised breast cancer by making it into something so light-hearted. Cancer is something serious, but making checking yourself into something much less serious means people might be more likely to think about it on a weekly basis.
We know that breast cancer exists, we know it’s awful and that there is no ‘fun’ side to it but what Coppafeel! and The Sun have done is make it something much less scary for men and women to deal with by breaking conventions. I recall an app for mobiles that Breast Cancer UK released around 2 or 3 years ago which enabled women to select a rather muscular male avatar to set up fortnightly reminders to check yourself – a tad creepy you might say (a tad sexualised I think!). It was something my friends and I all laughed about in our common room at school just like the 30 other girls that had downloaded it that I knew and were perhaps now more likely to think twice.
Funny, sexy, tongue-in-cheek campaigns are the ones that resound.
Sometimes our judgements can be clouded by our own personal experiences. Tackling cancer is something very close to my heart; a few years ago I sat in a doctor’s chair feeling like I was about to be sick – I was about to find out if the growth on my skin could be cancerous. It was the worst moment of my life and I’d happily go to any length and campaign in most interesting or inventive way possible to encourage people to not wait as long as I did to get checked out and to do really simple things to prevent their chances of developing skin cancer. This campaign really is inventive and engages with a consistently wide audience.
People that know how scary facing the possibility of cancer can be, will know that they’d do anything to prevent others from being in the same situation which is why I commend Kristin Hallenga for her work with Coppafeel! and The Sun who says that “it’s a brilliant platform to get across a life-saving message.”
For more information on breast cancer, this campaign and how to check for symptoms, you can head to the Coppafeel! website at http://coppafeel.org/